Tuesday, August 04, 2009
Conspiracy Theory Nation: Taxation Edition
Contrary to what some might have believed, I never had any doubt that President Obama would have to raise taxes to fund the programs we desperately need to enact. Decades of prolonging the inevitable for the sake of political expediency have left us now with so much to do that one wonders if ten years would be long enough to put it all into motion. No slight-of-hand and razzle-dazzle with the balance sheet can put money into the coffers. Taxes have never been popular, I recognize, and looking at the historical record finds many examples to reinforce my point.
In Biblical times, tax collectors were seen as only slightly better than vermin. Indeed, Jesus drew much flak from many of his fellows for daring to incorporate tax collectors without apology into the ranks of his followers. In Colonial America immediately before the Revolution, tax collectors frequently were subject to such torturous exercises as tarring and feathering, having tea forcibly poured down their throats, and being ridden out of town on a rail. Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack, dating from about this time, includes the famous saying that the only two things certain in life are death and taxes. These happen to be the first few examples that spring to mind. If my intent was merely to provide a list of events where taxation or the threat of taxation fostered a strongly negative collective response, this post would be three hundred pages long.
When I look at the unfocused, populist anger that has sprung up at Town Hall forums all across this country the past several days, I recognize with much concern that is a kissing cousin of this same kind of mob mentality. While it might be cathartic, is also self-defeating and unlikely to affect change. When I survey the amount of people who think that by force of will alone that they can prove that our President is somehow some foreign born-pretender to the throne, I register the same concern. If I read the vast amount of misinformation being circulated online to raise unfounded fear regarding the true intent of every Obama Administration program, and if I continue to note with much sadness that this line of thinking assumes that everything proposed to help the American people, to say nothing of extending basic health care coverage is full of secret manipulation and thought-control, and if I recognize with much discomfort that the degree of cynicism which exists within the American mindset insists that conspiracy theories, no matter how implausible are more truthful than the reality of the situation, then I see where we have ended up in this country.
The opposite of this swirl of defeatist sentiment pretending to be the personification of true wisdom lies across the pond in the United Kingdom. The UK's Universal Health Care program, the National Health Service (NHS) was founded in 1946 by new Prime Minister Clement Attlee's Labour Government. It was, it must be noted, set into place at a time where a nearly bankrupt island nation was emerging from the rubble of what had been an economically destructive Second World War. Indeed, Great Britain's financial woes were still so intense even after war hostilities subsided that it would need to strictly ration essential consumer goods for nearly as decade after the war's conclusion. And yet, it was enacted. And yet, it has persisted now for over fifty years. And yet, Attlee is frequently regarded as Britain's best Prime Minister, even superseding the man he replaced at Number 10 Downing Street, Conservative Sir Winston Churchill.
It should be noted that the United States could have had Universal Coverage in place well before even the UK or even before Canada. One of the proposal advanced by Franklin D. Roosevelt's unapologetic liberal crusader and Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins, was a health care plan that would have extended coverage to all. Set out during FDR's first term in office (1932-1936) and proposed during the first round of the New Deal, it was effectively scuttled by the American Medical Association (AMA) and never seen nor heard from again. When one considers just how much did get passed during the New Deal, particularly how many programs were signed into law that one could feasible see as far more potentially objectionable, then one sees why it has taken seventy years to get to where we are now.
So now yet again we have an option. We can place our trust in real reform, even if it makes us uncomfortable, or we can cling to the status quo. We can grasp fast to lunacy and the lunatics who eagerly embrace it for the love of spectacle, ratings share, advertising revenue, and viewership. We can shout down our local Congressperson or Senator at a function, taking our self-ascribed parts at pep rally thrown to vent our frustrations at a government we either assume is hopelessly incompetent or virulently obsessed with meddling into our personal affairs. I don't know about you, but none of these options seems particularly compelling or worthwhile to me.